The Next Camera You Buy Should Be Film

The Next Camera You Buy Should Be Film

To take The Buggles out of context — digital killed the film star. But just as podcasts are one of the biggest growth areas in media, so is film on the up. Forget buying digital. Your next camera should be film, and here's why.

That Nikon D810 you bought three years ago takes almost identical photos to the Z6, and when it comes to shooting a wedding or covering an event, it offers little marginal benefit other than emptying your wallet of a little (or a lot) more cash. Ultimately, professional (and by proxy, amateur) photographers dance to the tune of the commercial sector and the fads and fashions that are driving the market forward.

There is a definite trend from art directors for requesting "bigger" and "more," and this often translates into using top-end medium format cameras from the likes of Hasselblad and Phase. Outside of this (and a few other niche areas), you'd be hard pressed to tell whether a Canon 6D Mark II, Panasonic Lumix G90, Fuji X-T3, or Huawei P30 Pro (witness Ben Von Wong's P8 promo) took the shot. However, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd by offering to shoot film, something I do for weddings. Film is back, and here are four great reasons why your next camera should be film.

1. Retro Analog Is Back in Style

Retro is firmly here, be that flares, Converse Classics, or the Playstation 1. Nik haS long offered filter presets for the PC, while (for example) VSCO is one of a plethora of phone apps that do similar. Social media is actually a misnomer for visual media; photos trump everything when it comes to a status update. Witness Instagram, Facebook, and SnapChat to see how far the medium can be pushed. Filters and presets are de rigeur as long as it is instant and memorable, with color grading a critical element. In short, that fickle beast that is the general public wants — even loves — seeing retro styled images.

2. Film Sales Are Rising

Of course, you don't need a film camera to apply a digital preset, but users actually want more than just to post an instantly forgotten status update. Physical media is big business and there is nothing better than having a print in your hand. This goes some way to explain the explosion in photo gifts in recent years: canvases, photobooks, mugs, t-shirts, and cushions. You name it, someone can print a photo on it. Maybe it's a strange coincidence of fate, but Instagram and the Polaroid both share the square format. Square prints crop up again and again for online printing, while Polaroid (formerly the Impossible Project) and Fuji both have square instant prints.

In fact, it's not analog per se that people want, but instant gratification — the instant print. Technical perfection is not a consideration. Film sales are up, with Fuji selling more instant Instax cameras that digital cameras. More widely, film sales are increasing, with the likes of Kodak bringing Ektachrome back to market.

3. Digital Cameras Are Dead

I've talked about the death of digital camera sales before, and the writing is clearly on the wall. With sales down 83% from their peak in 2010, the camera is going back to the expensive niche status is held in the 1950s and 1960s. There is no volume left in the market. Smartphones are where there is camera growth and, crucially, development. That's not to say camera manufacturers aren't in this market. They are, and this is no better demonstrated than by Sony, but the new players, such as Google, Samsung, Huawei, and Apple have shifted the goal posts. That said, the imagery produced by smartphones doesn't stand up under close scrutiny; however, for their target audience, it is good enough, and the gap is closing rapidly with each iteration.

4. Slow Photography

Digital photography has created a strange phenomenon in the search for the perfect moment: the video frame. In short, video has killed the stills star.

This was perhaps entirely predictable, and you only have to look back at the contact sheets of the pros at Magnum to see the start of that search. Digital photography allowed instant, unlimited, photography, and the advent of 4K made photo from video genuinely useful, something that Panasonic was quick to exploit with its 4K photo mode. The latter is conceptually similar to Samsung's "motion photo."

While spray and pray clearly has its applications, there is reason to slow down. It will make you calmer and as a result, more considered. It can help you to see what you are looking at and for people, give you time and space to connect with your subjects. Not being able to see the end result forces you to rely on your technique; once you realize that you don't need to worry about what the camera has captured, you can focus upon what's in front of you, savoring the moment.

What to Buy?

Not surprisingly, there is a plethora of secondhand film cameras for sale at stupidly low prices. Choose your favorite auction site and take the usual precautions when buying (check out Paul Parker's Ultimate Guide), or use a reputable retailer who offers an appropriate warranty. When it comes to choice, I offer three suggestions. Firstly, stick with a familiar brand. Not only will it make shooting with the camera itself friendly and familiar, but your existing lenses may well be usable. In my case, I opted for the relatively recent Nikon F100, which works with all my F-mount lenses. It was home away from home, except I was shooting on film. Secondly, if you want to try something different or experience a blast from the past, then look for a job lot. Many enthusiasts are selling full body and lens collections, which means everything is ready for you. Finally, you may may want to use this opportunity to experiment with medium or large format cameras. There are a wealth of medium format options available, particularly with stalwarts from the golden age such as Bronica. And if you want to really slow down, then how about a new large format camera from Intrepid (and an Fstoppers review)?

Take a step in to the future and buy a film camera:

Film is dead… long live film!

Lead image courtesy of coyot via Pixabay, body images courtesy of Pexels and SeppHvia Pixabay. All used under Creative Commons.

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J.a. Spieringhs's picture

The Bronica EC is a great camera, with features i wish Hasselblad had ( I do own a 500c/m). But it’s a hefty beast, that I still like using.

Kirk Darling's picture

There isn't animosity toward film. Just toward film evangelism. Two such articles two days in a row....c'mon.

Owain Shaw's picture

As someone who makes pictures for fun these days, I've transitioned back to film (I'm just old enough to have started on film) over the past year. I had been putting the occasional roll through an old SLR I had, always really enjoyed using it and was happy with the results. I got a better job and decided to splash out on a nicer film camera. Since picking up a better film camera (my SLR had an intermitent fault that could be quite annoying) I have barely touched my digital cameras. I much prefer using my film camera. It costs money, but Photography is my hobby and I can spend a little on my hobby if I'm going to enjoy it. Some Spanish friends have this saying "es todo ahorro" to justify spending money on the things that make them happy.

I enjoy thinking about the picture, and imagining how it will look, and I think film has more of this than digital where you can check immediately afterwards. This is even more noticeable when using Black and White film because you really have to try and imagine the scene in Black and White, and how the colours or tones will translate to monochrome without any means of confirmation until the film is developed.

I can understand if this isn't for everyone since almost nothing is universally popular, but I can certainly see why film is regaining popularity and re-establishing its place alongside digital photography. I'm sure there's room for both in the world.

Incidentally, I voted that my next camera will be a Medium Format film camera. I'm using 35mm at the moment and would like to go back into Medium Format ten years later. I think I'll go for 6x6 because it's the most different to 35mm compared to either 645 or 6x7.

Okay, I've read the first page of response comments - and I have to agree with the majority: that going back to film is a non-starter. However, if a photographer has NEVER shot film, it could be an interesting endeavor for a photographer who wants to try that. I remember the last time I shot film (film photographer from '69-1998) - the lab tech told me he was going to take away the film scanner and as kindly as possible told me I HAD to shoot digital. I shot my last assignment - a soccer game - with 8 rolls of 35mm neg film at probably a cost of around $60. Shot it, loaded it on the reels back at the lab and into the color processing (filled with color processing chemicals at $XX), waited for the film to process, took it out and hung it in the dryer, waited for it to dry, pulled the dry rolls out on the light table and sleeved them all one at a time (cost of sleeves XX), looked at all the images with a loupe to mark choices - scanned several images with film scanner. And at that point, after having tested digital for a couple of years - I truly, sincerely, was DONE with film. Believe me - I have tons of fond memories: the sound of the rotating cylinder door to the darkroom, the clanking of the paper easel, the smell of the chemicals, the finesse of rolling film onto those metal reels, the magic of watching an image emerge on the paper. It was a golden age, just as was the golden age of black and white newspaper photography. I'm grateful I lived it. I'm grateful to know I could instantly go back to it if I wanted to. But no one wants to know and only a minuscule of young people cares to know what the days of yore were like. It's fine. I don't disagree with the article - I get it - and it actually has some merit for a segment of photographers who would like to slow down and experience the original magic. I do think that could add a depth to a photographer's knowledge and appreciation. But I also understand the responses of those who have "been there and done that." It was a PITA ultimately and we are all much happier with today's tech.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I think if I could make my Sony shutter sound like my old Hasselblad I'd be happy. Don't need to shoot film. But I like the film gadgetry more than the digital gadgetry I use...

David Garth's picture

This article is so weak and such a crock I don’t know where to start. So I won’t.

Douglas White's picture

Theres something that this reviewer and the powers that be appear to have ignored as far as video.
If I went to an aquantinces home and I see a nice photo of their child spanking a t-ball I'm thinking future pro. It doesnt mean I want to watch the 8 hours of "Jr." swinging at the ball 18 million times until he hits it.
Video has its place, and it always will, but so will photography. And yes, I still have my Canon F1's
It reminds me of the quote;
"This is my rifle, this is my gun one is for fighting one is for fun.
("The Boys in Company C") 2

This article makes me wonder what it'd be like if some tech disaster bomb hit and we were thrown back to using dial up modems and having to seek out public terminals to access our accounts while we were away from home. I remember the sheer euphoria I felt the first time I pulled up a chair in a very eary Internet cafe in Boston and checked my email over their "blazing fast" T1 line while sipping my favorite coffee drink.

Would I rediscover the joy I initially found in being able to tap into a convenient well of useful information or would I merely be frustrated that it was slow?

Josh Wright's picture

I shoot less digital now that I have a medium format film camera. I'm not sure why people say film has that "retro look" or "low quality" feel and think it's just hipster. Even enlarged 35mm looks amazing! Just doesn't have post processing built in. A lot of the instagram images you see of film are heavily digitally altered images. They should only look bad like that after years of poor storage.

A great thing about film is that you can use a $30 used camera with a good lens and get just as great of a shot as with a pro camera. So it's just not as marketable. Probably on par with painting. And my darkroom is kind of like an art studio. No alerts, ads or distractions. I find it more enjoyable than editting in a computer chair.

Try a roll again, I'm sure you'll find appreciation. Or don't it doesn't really matter what media you use in the end if you're satisfied.

If I still had my last film camera (Pentax) or the one before that ( Canon TX), I would not mind firing off a roll or two from time to time for fun. In fact, most of the time now, unless there is an action sequence I want to capture, I still keep my Alpha6500 in single shot mode and try to set up each shot I want as though I only had 12 or 36 frames available and didn't want to waste them. Of course, the best thing is not havng to wait for the prints to be returned to see how many were actually keepers. Digital? Great! Film? Interesting and fun, but I'm probably going to keep on with digital. ( Although vinyl LPs are making a comeback so, well, maybe....)